The Anti-Slavery Movement
The Anti-Slavery Movement
Rockport, Feby [February] 10th, 1863
H. S. Philbrook
Even Pool Jr.
Chas. S. Tarr
John J. Manning
Joseph T. Haskins
J. S. Choate
J. F. Moore
H. P. Bray
M. H. Knight
Albert M. Sanborn
W. M. Manning
E. B. Andrews
Edward G. Slocum
Chas. Knowlton Jr.
Alpheus (?) Pierce
Francis Tarr Jr.
Levi S. Gott
George W. Tarr
The Fugitive Slave Act
“We shall never get any better, until we see ourselves in an honest glass; until we get out of this habit of praising ourselves. The people of Massachusetts are not Abolitionists—but a very small portion of them. The State is a pro-slavery State, as a whole. The Fourth of July is a pro-slavery day—a day meant to commemorate the independence of thirteen States, in every one of which there were slaves when the Declaration was issued; and not one of which took the slightest measure, for years afterwards, to free a slave.”14https://www.walden.org/lectures/thoreaus-lectures-before-walden-lecture-43/
Anti-Slavery and Anti-Discrimination Petitions before the Civil War
Slavery and Social, Economic, and Political Unrest
In the first half of the 19th century, America was in a state of economic, political, and social turmoil. Protests against slavery, war, alcohol and tobacco production and use, as well as protests in favor of women’s right to vote, and against the admission of new states that permitted the sale, trade, ownership, and forced labor of slaves, grew in force. The nation was becoming more and more politically divided and southern states were preparing to defend, at all costs, their right to own slaves and their slave-based economy while northern states prepared to protect individual freedom and to preserve and protect the union.
Slave labor, along with high cultivation and land productivity rates, in the southern U.S. and in Caribbean and West Indian colonial plantations where sugar cane, tobacco and cotton were grown, provided a competitive economic advantage to American products over those produced in other parts of the world.
With industrialization and the development of the steam engine, power loom, and the cotton gin, the country’s economy was growing rapidly and was soon able to meet the world’s growing demand for cotton.
Anti-Slavery Petitions from Cape Ann
Anti-Slavery societies began to form and grow in the Northern states around the time of the American Revolution and were joined in the early 19th century by Protestant religious groups. Abolitionists such as William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, Arthur Lewis Tappan, James Forten, Robert Purvis, and Wendell Phillips4American Abolitionist Society http://www.americanabolitionists.com/american-anti-slavery-society.html. founded the American Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and by 1840 it had 2,000 affiliated societies with over 250,000 members. During the pre-war period however, business owners and others were in opposition to the anti-slavery movement because of their dependence on the products produced in the slave states.
Anti-slavery petition drives were organized in protest of the Gag Rules by the American Anti-Slavery Society and its regional affiliates. The Gag Rule was later rescinded in 1844 by a vote of the House on a motion made by John Quincy Adams.8The subjects of these petitions were primarily: Prohibiting the annexing of new slave-owning states, protesting the gag rule, remonstrating against discrimination on the railroads, agitating to repeal the laws against interracial marriage, and opposing the Fugitive Slave Act.
These documents contain around 8,000 signatures, a significant number, even allowing for those who signed several different petitions. Almost half of the petitions were signed by both sexes and ten of them were presented solely by women. The Town of Essex led the petition field with 48 petitions containing over 5,600 signatures. Protests against the Fugitive Slave Acts garnered the most petitions within the Cape Ann area (8 from Gloucester, 2 from Rockport and 15 from Essex) with a total of 3807 signatures. The following represent a sampling of these petitions.
Opposition to the Admission of Slave States
In April 1838 the Massachusetts Senate drew up a series of resolutions regarding slavery, collectively titled Senate Bill 0087. Report on the Powers and Duties of Congress upon the Subject of Slavery and the Slave Trade.9Massachusetts State Library. www.archives.lib.state.ma.us. and Acts and Resolves passed by the General Court, pp.742-744. Declaring that the inhuman traffic of slaves was a national disgrace and a sin, the main points of the bill were that Congress should act on its power to:
- Abolish slavery and the slave trade in the District of Columbia
- Abolish slavery in the Territories of the United States
- Prohibit the admission of any new state that allows slavery
- Prohibit the slave trade among the States of the Union
‘That no new State should hereafter be admitted into the Union, whose constitution shall permit the existence of domestic slavery’ –
do now respectfully and earnestly pray your honorable bodies, to protest, in the name of the people of this Commonwealth, against the admission of Florida, or any other new State, with such a constitution of government.”10Dataverse. www.dataverse.harvard.edu Senate Unpassed Legislation 1839, Docket 10525, SC1/series 231, Petition of John Perkins
Petition for Equal Rights in Rail Travel Accommodations
In February 1842, the Boston abolitionist newspaper the Liberator reported that railroad officials had assaulted an African American gentleman and ejected him from a train. It was not the first such incident. Frederick Douglass, for example, was similarly treated; but it initiated a strong reaction from the general population.
Petitions Against the Fugitive Slave Acts
A Fugitive Slave Act had been written into law by Congress in 1793 in support of Article 4 of the Constitution which delineated the relationship among states, specifically extradition and freedom of movement. The law authorized local governments to seize and return escapees to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who aided in their flight. This law was weakened in 1842 when the supreme Court determined that states were not obliged to aid in the recapture of enslaved persons. In consequence, the numbers of slaves escaping to the north increased, which prompted Virginia Senator James M. Mason to draft a new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. This Act decreed that all escaped slaves were to be returned to their slave owners upon capture, irrespective of where the capture took place. It also proposed stiff fines for officials who refused to arrest a purported escaped slave (and a promotion for those who did), nullified Habeas corpus, and promised imprisonment for anyone aiding a fugitive slave. The alleged slave, once arrested, was to be denied a trial by jury and could not testify on their own behalf. Abolitionists called it the ‘Bloodhound Bill’ and rallied to the cause.
1) Useless, at best, – that is, in cases where it may conveniently be evaded.
2) Far worse than useless, when enforced, – because tending to illicit and immoral connexions.”
Petitions Against the Fugitive Slave Acts
A Fugitive Slave Act had been written into law by Congress in 1793 in support of Article 4, of the Constitution which delineated the relationship among states, specifically extradition and freedom of movement. The law authorized local governments to seize and return escapees to their owners and imposed penalties on anyone who aided in their flight. This law was weakened in 1842 when the supreme Court determined that states were not obliged to aid in the recapture of enslaved persons. In consequence, the numbers of slaves escaping to the north increased, which prompted Virginia Senator James M. Mason to draft a new Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. This Act decreed that all escaped slaves were to be returned to their slave owners upon capture, irrespective of where the capture took place. It also proposed stiff fines for officials who refused to arrest a purported escaped slave (and a promotion for those who did), nullified Habeas corpus, and promised imprisonment for anyone aiding a fugitive slave. The alleged slave, once arrested, was to be denied a trial by jury and could not testify on their own behalf. Abolitionists called it the ‘Bloodhound Bill’ and rallied to the cause.
Nevertheless, the petitions serve as clear evidence of an organized anti-slavery and abolitionist movement among residents of Cape Ann.
Cape Ann Abolitionists
Henry C. Wright, for example, whose letterbook was found in the Annisquam Historical Society’s
Deluge 8 Firehouse on Walnut St. in Gloucester, gave a speech at the 1838 annual meeting of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society at Faneuil Hall in Boston.2Proceedings of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society at the Annual Meetings held in 1854, 1855, and 1856, Boston:
In 1854 Maria Weston Chapman and John T. Sargent served as “counsellors” providing guidance to the organization, and Mehitable Haskell of Gloucester was a nominating officer.3Officers, Members and Supporters of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society: http://www.americanabolitionists.com/massachusetts-anti-slavery-society.html Mehitable, or “Aunt Hitty” (1789-1878) and her brother Thomas (1791-1873) were both very active in the anti-slavery movement. Thomas Haskell was president of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society in 1842 and arranged for Charles Remond and Parker Pillsbury to visit Rockport during a Quarterly Meeting of the Society at the Universalist Church in Rockport.4Bray, Maria Herrick, 1908, Aunt Hitty: Biographical and Reminiscent Narration of Aunt Hitty and Uncle Thomas Haskell (Salem); http://hfa.haskells.net/haskellfamilyna/pafg62.htm. The Society at the Universalist Church in Rockport is currently known as the Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport.
Source: Shopping Days in Retro Boston
The Underground Railroad
Manchester-by-the-Sea, and the Old Parsonage on 19 North Main St. in Ipswich.1Abolitionists and the Underground Railroad in Essex County: https://www.nps.gov/sama/learn/historyculture/upload/UGRRsm.pdf
Mehitable Haskell and Her Brother Thomas Haskell
It was agreed that the organization would be known as the New England Non-Resistance Society, and Article III of their constitution stated that “any person, without distinction of sex or color, who consents to the principles of this Constitution, and contributes to the funds of this Society, may become a member and be entitled to vote at its meetings.”4The Liberator, Sep. 28, 1838
“that the prejudice existing in this country against the negro, on account of his complexion, which is so apparent not only on southern plantations, but in the churches, stages, steamboats, railroad cars, grave-yards, and other associations and arrangements of the North, is manifestly vulgar, cruel and murderous; and ought to be as far removed from every human breast, as it is from that God who is no respecter of persons.”9
“This meeting, as I understand it, was called to discuss the question of Woman’s Rights. Well, I do not pretend to know exactly what woman’s rights are; but I know that I have groaned for forty, yea, for fifty years, under a sense of woman’s wrongs.”14McCord, Louisa S.C., Political and Social Essays, 1995, fn7 p.129
“She still made time, out of what we should have thought perhaps a narrow life, to consider the broadest problems, and think upon all the disputed questions of the age. And although deeply interested, profoundly interested, in such questions, I never saw in her the slightest intolerance. …[her] active brain has been by the blessing of God a strength and a help to break the chains of four millions of people, and remove the deeper prejudice even than that which curbs the sphere of woman.”21Bray, Maria Herrick, Aunt Hitty, Salem Press, 1908
Abolitionist Speakers on Cape Ann
by Rev. Parker Pillsbury
at the First Universalist Society of Rockport that was marred by an act of violence. His audience included members of the Essex County Anti-Slavery Society, but roughly half the congregation opposed his presence and anti-slavery stance.2Frederick Douglass, Partial Speaking Itinerary, 1839-46: http://nbhistoricalsociety.org/douglass/DouglassVolume_1_itenerary.pdf He had been invited by free speech advocate and minister at the time Rev. Stillman Barden.3The Liberator, December 13, 1861, p. 199 According to one account of the attack on Pillsbury:
A Bomb-Shell in Church.—On Sunday evening, November 1, 1861, there were in the Universalist Church an audience of about seventy persons listening to an address on the slavery question by Parker Pillsbury. While he was speaking some person threw a sort of bomb-shell through a window on the north side of the house; it fell near Mr. Pillsbury’s feet and exploded. The audience were greatly frightened and left the house, which was filled with smoke. After the smoke cleared some few persons returned to the church, and Mr. Pillsbury resumed his lecture. There was no other disturbance. This missile was made by wrapping a few pieces of coal and a quantity of powder in a cloth and securing it by a cord tightly drawn about it; the whole saturated with spirits of turpentine….
suggested it might have been an inside job, as the first several rows of pews were unaccountably unoccupied at the time, and it was known that a substantial number of members of the congregation were opposed to having a speaker on abolition.
In whatever else this Union may fail, in this we are resolved not to fail: that Slavery, in root and branch, in leaf and fibre, shall be blotted out forever in this nation….We commit a great mistake if we do not now and forever settle the negro question; we have got hold of it, and should settle it now and forever, in light of our recent contest, and of justice, so that it may never again arise, in any form.
Source: Gloucester Telegraph, October 25, 1865 (public domain)
The Henry C. Wright Letterbook as a Window on the Times
I wrote you…that I was glad of your continued success in diffusing Anti-Slavery. This morning I showed William Smeal your letter detailing your novel [experiences?] for returning from Scotland the disgrace brought on us by the “Free” taking “blood money” from the American slaveholders. [Smeal] was pleased with the idea & thinks if brought forward the best way will be at a public meeting in Glasgow on the return of yourself, Douglass, & Buffum. He is to consider of it further for a day, but this is his present opinion. [He] has another letter from Ian Fenwick informing the good meeting you had in Perth & sending a Perth newspaper containing a short notice of it….[The] paper contains report of an excellent meeting against militia on peace principles at which Stowel [William Scott—Lord Stowell?] spoke.
We are all well…. When do you return & what are your plans in the north! Best love from all to yourself, & D [Douglass] & B [Buffum] if in your company. I am, Dear Henry,